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Obese Children

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

The main source of data on childhood obesity is the health survey for England. According to the latest survey, 19.2 per cent. of boys and 18.5 per cent. of girls aged two to 15 were classified as obese. We are unable to provide estimates for morbid obesity in children, as there is no specific definition above which a child can be considered morbidly obese.

Does not that show that we have a virtual epidemic of obesity that affects our young children? However many positive messages parents and schools try to convey about exercise and eating healthily, the real problem is that advertisers pump out negative messages day after day about eating junk food and having drinks that are not good for children. Will my hon. Friend make representations to Ofcom to ban advertising junk food to children, not only during the day but during the programmes that they watch, including “Coronation Street”?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight concerns about obesity in children. He is also right to make the point about parents making informed choices. That is why we have worked to encourage the industry to introduce front-of-pack labelling and asked for the consultation about the promotion of high fat, high salt and high sugar foods to children. The consultation ends on 30 June, so everyone has time to make their views known. The options include a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of advertisements that promote high fat, high salt and high sugar foods and drinks to children. There is a healthy debate on the issue and I urge everyone inside and outside the House to make their views known.

Given that, over the past decade, childhood obesity in some groups has nearly doubled and that British children are getting fatter faster than children anywhere else in Europe, does the Minister share our alarm at February’s National Audit Office report, which suggests that poor co-ordination, inadequate leadership and a tendency to apply myriad initiatives that lack a credible evidence base can be blamed for the complete failure of that important aspect of Government public health policy?

Of course, the problem has been developing over the past 20 years. Children do less exercise, the Playstation is often more important than the bicycle and parents obviously have to make choices. The NAO report made some suggestions for improvement, and several matters have been improved since it carried out its first research. We now have clearer guidance to clinicians on outcomes at general practitioner surgeries, we have provided a weight loss guide and obesity care pathways to primary care clinicians and we are examining options for treatment programmes. That is happening as well as all our work with the food industry on labelling, reformulation and, of course, promotion. The hon. Gentleman would agree that the subject is complex. The Government, the health service and the food industry have a role to play but so have the public in making the right choices for children.